Beth fingered the fresh bruises that ringed her neck. The pain, which responded to each prod, was soothing in its reliability.
“What was different about yesterday, Beth?” asked the doctor sitting in the vinyl-covered visitor’s chair that faced her bed. He had introduced himself the day before, when they met for the first time.
Dr. Stanley, maybe? Or Sandberg? The name — Stewart? — had seemed so unimportant at the time. Today, however, she keenly felt the imbalance of their knowledge. This doctor knew she didn’t like to be called Mrs. Martinson. He had perused a chart of her bodily functions. And he had a good guess as to what she looked like naked. A one-size-fits-most hospital gown was not modest wear for a woman once considered erotically plump by her now ex-husband. “Yesterday? Nothing much.”
The doctor remained silent.
“I had the day off work,” Beth admitted. “But that happens a lot this time of year.” It was still September. Beth worked as a substitute teacher for the local high school, and the demand for her services was strongly correlated with flu season.
“So yesterday — it was about having the day off work?” asked the doctor, irritating Beth by simultaneously turning her statement into a question and mistaking her meaning altogether.
Beth shook her head. “No, of course not.” She poked at her neck again. Beth thought the doctor looked like a grizzled garden gnome. Internally, she rechristened him Graybeard.
Her day off work had been an opportunity, not a problem. The beauty of suicide, as opposed to a car accident or heart attack, was that it could be scheduled for a convenient time.
Graybeard twisted and untwisted the cap to his fountain pen, his hands resting on the blank yellow legal pad on his lap. “You know, Beth,” his voice was unhurried, “you can tell me what you’re thinking.”
Beth said nothing.
“Or ask any questions that are coming up for you.”
Beth had made several futile suicide attempts in the past. Too futile to be called a cry for help, as only she knew about them. A couple of times sitting on the kitchen floor, scraping a paring knife up and down her left wrist, too scared of the pain to plunge the blade in. One attempted overdose that ended with her puking into the bathtub for an hour.
Yesterday, she had tried hanging. Quick and painless. No blood, no gore. Well, the latter was only true provided decapitation didn’t occur. But Beth hadn’t been worried about that. Decapitation was a long-drop problem. Her entranceway was just twelve feet high.
“Anything,” Graybeard prompted. “Feel free to ask anything.”
Beth looked around the hospital room, searching for a benign topic of conversation. “Do you watch TV?” she asked.
“Sometimes,” Graybeard replied. “But I prefer to read. What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Do you watch television?”
“No, not really.” The truth, ceaseless in its thirst for detail and clarification, required more effort than she was willing to expend.
There had been a time in her life when Beth hadn’t watched television. Her life had been filled with restaurant dinners, concerts, and summer-evening softball games. But that had been many years ago. These days, the television was Beth’s only companion. She couldn’t bring herself to turn it off. She dreaded the immediate silence that echoed in her ears. Even at bedtime, Beth needed its gentle murmur to lull her to sleep.
“Not really,” repeated Graybeard, seemingly to himself.
In the weeks leading up to yesterday, Beth had practiced and re-practiced her hangman’s knot in the comforting presence of her favorite shows. The hangman’s knot had been the one part Beth feared messing up.
When Beth had kicked the ladder away yesterday, the knot held firm. However, her weight had pulled the chandelier from the ceiling just far enough that her toes touched the floor. Apparently, it wasn’t mounted in such a way as to support a plus-sized woman. Uncomfortable and alive, she had struggled unsuccessfully to untie the rope.
“Do you want the nurses to phone someone?” asked Graybeard. “A friend, perhaps?”
“No.” Beth pressed her fingers into her neck, letting the pain override her panic. Too many people already knew about yesterday. Graybeard. The first responders. The postman.
It was when the postman came to deliver the mail that Beth’s predicament was noticed through her glass front door. Standing precariously on tip-toe. Calves cramping. Not competent enough to have carried out her plan. Not brave enough to lift her feet and finish the job.
Graybeard cleared his throat. “I want to talk more about yesterday. What made it different to the day before?”
Beth let her hand fall away from her neck. She shook her head. “Nothing. Nothing was different. That was the problem.”
J.T. Toman lives (and writes!) in Boulder, Colorado. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking, biking, and coaxing her vegetable garden to grow.